- Associated Press - Monday, June 5, 2017

CHESTERVILLE, Ill. (AP) - Peeking out from behind a hedgerow lining Illinois Route 133 west of Chesterville, two historic Amish homes steadfastly signify the first steps taken for the creation the new Illinois Amish Heritage Center.

The Moses Yoder house is the oldest known Amish house in Illinois. Yoder built the house shortly after he settled near Arthur in 1865, and the two-story porch on the front of the house is unique to Illinois Amish houses. Daniel Schrock arrived a few years later and built his home in 1882.

From their outward appearances, it’s clear that both houses will undergo significant restoration before opening to the public, but the people involved with the project are determined to make it a reality.

A fundraising campaign is underway to raise funds for the restoration of the houses, infrastructural improvements and numerous additional elements that will eventually fill the Illinois Amish Heritage Center site.

About $100,000 has been raised locally to go toward the initial movement and restoration of the two Amish houses. Both houses were moved to the current site in September after being spared from demolition in 1999, and moved to a location behind CHI Overhead Doors in Arthur.

“They kind of got a little dilapidated. Some people didn’t see them as historic buildings,” said Bob Doan, secretary of the Illinois Amish Heritage Center board of directors.

The Moses Yoder and Daniel Schrock houses will be the focal points of the site after being restored to their 19th century appearance and will showcase the area’s Amish heritage.

The overall mission of the project is to enhance the preservation, understanding and appreciation of all aspects of the culture and heritage of the Amish people in Illinois from 1865 to the present.

“They want to preserve these aspects of life, that time period,” Doan said. “Because it is a unique culture and the impact it has on all of us.”

The Yoder house, along with outbuildings that are planned to eventually be moved to the site, will be operated as an Amish living history farm. The Schrock house will become an education center for visiting groups and school children.

“I find this extremely exciting to be able to restore the history and culture of the buildings. It’s part of our history and part of our tradition,” Doan said.

Future plans include construction of a museum building, which will feature exhibits that tell the history and story of the Amish culture and include items such as a historic Amish buggy and an Amish church bench wagon. Current Amish culture will also be featured to give visitors an understanding of how the Amish live, work, play and socialize.

According to the center’s developmental plan, the entire project is expected to cost over $2 million.

“It’s a pretty big project that includes a lot of people in the area,” Doan said. “It should help clarify and hopefully solidify the English understanding of the Amish culture.”

Local contractors, including one Amish contractor, have already been working on the restoration of the Daniel Schrock house. Doan hopes the work will be far enough along by late July to open the house during the upcoming first annual Steam Threshing Show that will be held at the site on July 21 and 22.

“We hope it’s done enough that they get kind of the flavor of what we’re trying to do,” Doan said.

During both days, guides will conduct tours and explain the historic significance of the houses and the restoration process.

The event will feature other historic agricultural demonstrations as well as craft and vendor booths and a food tent, Doan said.

A wheat field has already been planted in preparation for the event. Steam tractors will be on display on July 21, and the threshing is scheduled for July 22.

“They’ll be a haystack when it’s done,” Doan said. “We’re hoping they’ll be able to take home a small souvenir sample of the wheat.”

In addition to the restoration of the Schrock house, infrastructural improvements such as the completion of the entrance from Route 133, the construction of a preliminary parking lot and service road, and running utilities to the Schrock house are planned for this year.

“The nice thing is that what we’re spending money on now will be one-time expenses,” Doan said.

Planned improvements for 2018 entail the restoration of the Yoder house, construction of a pavilion with restroom facilities, utilizing the Schrock house for interim offices and a visitors center, and implementing farming and interpretive programs.

Construction of the museum building is expected to begin in 2019. Plans also call for a barn, farm buildings and an Amish school to be moved to the site during the final phase in 2020.

Once complete, the Illinois Amish Heritage Center will be a new tourist destination for visitors interested in learning about Amish heritage and culture, Doan said.

The center’s officials will work with other attractions, hotels and businesses in the area to market tour packages, attract bus tours, and make Illinois Amish Country a major tourist destination.

“I would encourage people to be patient with us and consider being a part of our fundraising and what we’re doing,” Dona said. “It’s not a few people. So many people are involved.”

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Source: The Mattoon Journal Gazette and the (Charleston) Times-Courier: https://bit.ly/2qjr4iD

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Information from: Mattoon Journal-Gazette, https://www.jg-tc.com

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